A last-ditch effort by Prime Minister Petr Nečas to prevent a nationwide strike on Thursday has failed. Mr Nečas promised the employers and union leaders at Wednesday morning’s tripartite talks that the Parliament would not deal with health care reform this week, and warned that the strike would cause economic damages and bring nothing of benefit. The unions welcomed the promise and said they would do everything possible to prevent damages, but that the strike was to go ahead. Trains and city transport services will come to a halt for 24 hours starting at midnight Wednesday. The strike is in protest of pensions, health care and tax reforms planned by the centre-right government. The cabinet has said it is willing to negotiate, but trade unions insist that the concessions offered are inadequate.
The unions have decided to back off from a plan to block automobile traffic on Prague’s main thoroughfare and to march on the city instead, forming a demonstration at Palackého náměstí. From there they intend to move to the Ministry of Finance, leave bails of straw at the Office of the Government and continue to Prague Castle. The march is expected to end at noon. The unions say they expect around 3,000 people to participate.
Union leaders in Brno have agreed with the municipal government to keep certain transit routes running in the morning and afternoon rush hours. Some union members in the city have agreed on a symbolic strike. Meanwhile, buses will be up and running as normal in Plzeň, where members of the local bus union have agreed on a wholly symbolic strike. There they plan to express their disagreement with government reforms on posters in all of the city’s buses.
In other news, Prague will not be hosting an early warning station for a planned US missile defence system, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra has announced. Speaking to reporters after a meeting with American Deputy Defence Secretary William Lynn, Mr Vondra said that the system is to be integrated into the NATO framework, and that Czech Republic would be looking for another way to get involved in the project. Talk of such a station began after the new American administration scrapped plans for a missile defence shield conceived by former president Bush, which included a radar base in the Czech Republic. Recently Mr Vondra referred to the early warning station as a “consolation prize” for the cancellation of the radar station.
The government parties have agreed to wrap up negotiations on the future of their three-party coalition by the end of this week, the chairmen of the parties’ parliamentary clubs announced Wednesday. The main issue of cabinet posts for the junior Public Affairs party has reportedly not been resolved, and the parties are further debating an amendment to the coalition agreement demanded by Public Affairs. They have however agreed that an office within the Finance Ministry looking into politicians’ affairs will remain there, but be run by a separately named individual. They also agreed to support taxation of gambling as a key task.
Nearly every fifth student who took the newly launched secondary school leaving exams failed, the Education Ministry has announced. One in ten students did not meet the requirements to take the exams. The highest failure rates were in mathematics, where more than 14% failed. Nine percent failed on the foreign language tests, particularly in German, where every fourth student received a failing grade. The vast majority of students chose to take an easier version of the exams. Education Minister Josef Dobeš said Wednesday that roughly 30 schools had had failure rates of 70%.
Czech police have raided the Supreme State Attorney's offices in Prague and Brno seeking evidence of an information leak regarding Austrian-made, Pandur armoured personnel carriers. The raid was ordered by the State Attorney's Office in Olomouc over the suspicion of abuse of power. Early last month, Czech newspapers published the testimony of a confidential witness in the case of allegedly overpriced purchases of personnel carriers for the Czech military that may have involved high bribes. Marek Dalik, an aide to then prime minister Mirek Topolanek, was accused of asking for a bribe of half a billion crowns as a commission for the deal in late 2007.
A Prague festival will host the world premiere of Antonio Vivaldi's opera L'Unione della Pace, e di Marte, following its reconstruction by a Czech expert 284 years after its only performance. The serenata was composed for the birth of French King Louis XV's first children, twin sisters Louise Elisabeth and Anne Henriette and was performed only once, in 1727, in the open air, in a garden adjacent to the church of Madonna dell'Orto in Venice. The complete libretto has been preserved in the National Braidense Library in Milan, but the score disappeared altogether and had to be reconstructed on the basis of tunes from Vivaldi's other operas. The international ensemble Hof-Musici, led by composer and conductor Ondrej Macek will perform L'Unione della Pace, e di Marte several times within the Prague Baroque Festival starting on June 17. The premiere is scheduled for July 4 at the Ledebour Garden at the foot of Prague Castle.
A new amendment to the Czech roads law, passed by the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday, prohibits drivers from evading responsibility for speeding and some other traffic offences on the grounds that their vehicle was being driven by a close relative. If signed into law, the bill will ensure that the owner of the vehicle guarantees that anybody driving it observes the rules of the road. If the driver violates the rules, the owner may be fined up to 10,000 crowns. The amendment also prohibits EU citizens from having more than one driver’s licence, and raises the age limit for driving large motorcycles to 24, with some exceptions.
Next month’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will be hosting two special American guests, actors John Malkovich and John Turturro. For Mr Malkovich it will be his second trip to the Czech Republic this summer, having recently performed in the Prague Spring music festival. He will also be presenting his line of men’s clothing, called Technobohemian, which will be modelled by leading Czech actors. John Turturro is set to receive a special prize awarded by the festival president and will introduce the world premiere of his latest directorial film, Somewhere Tonight.